Sex in the Media: Vaginismus Focus: “Unorthodox” (Netflix)

Welcome to “Sex in the Media: Explore or Ignore,” our new column in which we investigate steamy snippets from tv, film, literature, podcasts, and even social media. Every other week, we’ll check out a new adventure and tell you whether to buy in or forget you ever heard about it!

We have finally reached an age (what took us so long?!) when the often-isolating condition of vaginismus has now been featured in several new forms of popular media. I’ve written about them in a previous blog, but for now, I want to focus the spotlight on Netflix’s excellent series “Unorthodox.” The show is based upon Deborah Feldman’s 2012 memoir in which she shares the events that led to an exit out of her insular Ultraorthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn and into a completely new life.

Much has been written about the production, which is truly excellent, so I won’t offer yet another glowing review. What I would like to honor here is the decision to include a storyline that portrayed vaginismus in a very realistic way, emphasizing not just the physical pain, but the psychological, emotional, and in this case, the spiritual as well.

Vaginismus, like other sexual issues, comes with a lot of unwelcome baggage. Our heroine in “Unorthodox,” Esty, is plagued by a lack of comprehensive education about her body, arousal, and pleasure; she also knows next to nothing about the man she has just married. She faces the scorn not only of her husband and her mother-in-law, but the sting of her own self-judgement. She’s been raised for marriage and procreation – her sole purpose in the eyes of her community. And even when she reaches out for help, she is offered guidance that – although meant to be helpful – leaves much to be desired.

Whether Esty recovers from vaginismus is hard to say and left up to viewers to decide. For now, I’m just grateful that women who experience it can see themselves in a strong and resilient television character. Most importantly, I want them to know that it is highly treatable.

If you or someone you know has vaginismus, please don’t hesitate to contact us for a free phone consultation. We have a variety of treatment options and resources to help women find their own path to healing. And as for you, Netflix: keep the progressive, inclusive programming coming!

If you want more “Unorthodox,” you can also watch Dr. Bat Sheva discuss it on her new series Sex Points.